The Legis­lative
Reorgan­ization Act of 1970 and other 1970s Sunshine Reforms

And other congressional moves toward transparency

The unheralded laws and rules changes that thrust transparency on Congress and opened the floodgates for lobbyists in Washington DC.

By David King – November 2014

Among the most consequential reforms of the 1970s was the move toward open committee meetings and recorded votes. Committee chairs used to run meetings at which legislation was “marked up” behind closed doors. Only members and a handful of senior staff were present. By 1973 not only were the meetings open to anyone, but every vote was formally recorded. Before this, in voting on amendments members would walk down aisles for the ayes and nays. The final count would be recorded but not the stand of each individual member. Now each member has to vote publicly on every amendment. The purpose of these changes was to make Congress more open and responsive. And so it has become – to money, lobbyists, and special interests.
– Zakaria 2003 – Future of Freedom

In the early 1970s Congress opened up its proceedings in a number of important ways. Before the term ‘transparency’ was en vogue, numerous important transparency measures were passed. The most salient was the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (discussed below). But there were other ‘minor’ rules changes as well that worked to the benefit of lobbying and outside pressure as well, as these were the laws that brought the lobbyists in from the lobby.

Perhaps the most important of those more ‘subtle’ changes was the 1973 H Res 259 which opened committees, and the 1975 opening of the conference committees, covered by Langly and Oleszek here. And whose effects were noted by scholar Pildes from NYU Law, below:

SUNSHINE RULES: The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 took the first steps toward more open committee meetings and hearings and required that all House and Senate committee roll-call votes be made public. The House in 1973 voted to require that all committee sessions be open unless a majority of the committee voted in public to close them. The Senate adopted a similar rule in 1975. Both chambers in 1975 voted to open conference committee sessions, unless a majority of the conferees of either chamber voted in public to close a session. The House amended this rule in 1977 to require a recorded vote by the full House to close a conference committee meeting. Conferences have been closed for legislation dealing with sensitive intelligence and national security matters. With the vast majority of hearings now open this issue has received little attention over the last decade, with the exceptions being the advisability of closed hearings regarding the September 11, 2001 attacks and the Iraq War.

After the 1976 Government in the Sunshine Act required that congressional committee meetings be public, surveys of senators soon concluded that these open meeting requirements were the largest single cause of a decline in the ability to negotiate and to make politically difficult trade-offs.
– Pildes 2014 – Romanticizing Democracy

In 1995 the rules were further amended to require that: on all votes conducted in a committee markup on a reported bill or other matter reported to the House, the report contain the number of votes cast for or against and how individual members voted. In the Senate the rules are less specific. They require that a committee’s report on a bill include the results of roll-call votes on “any measure or any amendment thereto” unless the results have been announced previously by the committee. Senate rules require that in reporting roll-call votes the position of each voting member is to be disclosed (Senate Rule XXVI.7(b)).

Speaker Gingrich in the 104th Congress advanced openness reforms which largely echoed efforts begun by Democrats in the 1970s reform era to allow the sunshine in to disinfect Congress.
– Connelly 2013 – Partisan, Polarized, Yet Not Dysfunctional?

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970

The Introduction of Congressional Transparency

This landmark legislation launched the congressional reforms of the seventies, transforming the institution more than any event or series of events since the overthrow of Speaker Cannon
– Wolfensburger 2000 – Congress and the People
By far the most significant antisecrecy provision in the [1970] act dealt with disclosure of House members’ votes in Committee of the Whole. The House often makes its most important policy decisions in that committee, but for 180 years its precedents had forbidden the recording of names in these votes.
– Kravitz 1990 – The Legsilative Reorganization Act

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (Pub.L. 91–510 pdf | wikipedia) was an act of the United States Congress to “improve the operation of the legislative branch of the Federal Government, and for other purposes.” The act focused mainly on the rules that governed congressional committee procedures, decreasing the power of the chair and empowering minority members, and on making House and Senate processes more transparent. Almost as a second thought, they added rules for recorded votes and broadcasting of committees.

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970

From the 1995 Encyclopedia on Congress by David King

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (P.L. 91-510; 84 Stat. 1140-1204) was the first major legislative reform bill enacted after the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. The 1970 act encouraged open committee meetings and hearings, required that committee roll-call votes be made public, allowed for television and radio broadcasting of House committee hearings, and formalized rules for debating conference committee reports. Many of these reforms were adopted in the name of opening up the legislative process to the public eye. The reform of longest-lasting significance provided that House votes in the Committee of the Whole be recorded on request, which ended the secrecy often surrounding members’ votes on important measures.

Within a decade after the 1946 reorganization act, a handful of reform-minded legislators had begun calling for revisions to deal with the act's unanticipated consequences. By reducing the number of committee chairmen while strengthening congressional oversight of the executive branch, the act greatly expanded the chairmen’s power. In party caucuses, seniority was the guiding rule for appointing committee chairmen. A disproportionate number of chairmen were long-serving southern Democrats who effectively veto d a more liberal social Welfare and civil rights agenda throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s.

In 1965, Congress established the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, headed by Sen. A. S. Mike Monroney (D-Okla.) and Rep. Ray J. Madden (D-Ind.). The joint committee’s final report in 1966 recommended limiting the powers of chairmen, reducing the number of committee assignments, improving committee staff, and expanding the Legislative Reference Service (later renamed the Congressional Research Service). In 1967, the Senate passed a bill (S. 355) largely based on the Joint committee's recommendations, but the bill languished in the House in the face of fierce opposition from committee chairmen.

In a move that surprised most observers, two House Rules Committee members, B. F. Sisk (D-Calif.) and Richard W. Bolling (D-Mo.), pushed for a special subcommittee to consider legislative reform in 1969. The result was House Report 91-1215, which became the basis for the 1970 Legislative Reorganization Act. Most of the provisions in the 1970 bill opened up the legislative process through what are called sunshine provisions (i.e., measures that increase public access by “letting the sunshine in” on legislative proceedings). Very few of the proposals to limit the powers of committee chairmen and to weaken seniority that had been discussed by the 1969 join t committee survived in the bill.

In ten days of floor debate, 65 amendments were considered. A package of ten amendments (nine of which passed) was presented on the House floor by a bipartisan coalition of reformers. The House passed its version of the reorganization act 326 to 19 on 17 September 1970. The Senate made minor changes, passing the bill 59 to 5 on 6 October, and the House accepted the Senate's modifications on 8 October.

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 was a harbinger of things to come. While limitations on seniority were modest, within a year the House and Senate had passed resolutions stating that the selection of committee chairmen need not be based solely on seniority. In 1973, the House “Subcommittee Bill of Rights” mandated that legislation be referred to subcommittees, further weakening the power of the chairmen of full committees.

[See also Government in the Sunshine Act.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY Davidson, Roger H. “Inertia and Change: The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970.” In On Capitol Hill. Edited by John F. Bibby and Roger H. Davidson. 2d ed. 1972.

Kravitz, Walter. “The Advent of the Modern Congress: The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 15 (August 1990): 375-399.

Key Sections and Clauses of the 1970 LRA

The House of Representatives

Below is section 104, clause 27b, of the 1970 LRA addressing the procedural changes required in the House of Representatives:

PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT OF COMMITTEE VOTES SEC. 104. (b) Clause 27(b) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives is amended by adding at the end thereof the following: “The result of each roll-call vote in any meeting of any committee shall be made available by that committee for inspection by the public at reasonable times in the offices of that committee. Information so avail- able for public inspection shall include a description of the amendment, motion, order, or other proposition and the name of each Member voting for and each Member voting against such amendment, motion, order, or proposition, and whether by proxy or in person, and the names of those Members present but not voting. With respect to each record vote by any committee on each motion to report any bill or resolution of a public character, the total number of votes cast for, and the total number of votes cast against the reporting of such bill or resolution shall be included in the committee report.”

Subsequent rule changes in the House led to the 1973 introduction of enormous voting boards, which dramatically increased the ability for outsiders to monitor the votes.

The Senate

Below is section 103 and 133b, the actual text that changed the way the Senate votes. It is important to note, that while the below wording looks the same as the House version above, the difference was less severe for two reasons (1) the Senate did not have the ability to congregate in the ‘Committee of the Whole’ (2) the Senate had already called for open proceedings starting in 1929 (but which did not ramp up into common usage until the 1930s and 1940s. The changes to Senate procedure brought by the 1970 LRA resulted in paragraph 5(b) of Rule XXVI of the Standing Rules of the Senate.

SEC. 103. (a) Section 133(b) of the Legislative Reorganization Act 60 Stat. 831. of 1946 (2 U.S.C. 190a(b)) is amended by inserting immediately after ( b ) the following: “Meetings for the transaction of business of each standing committee of the Senate, other than for the conduct of hearings, shall be open to the public except during executive sessions for marking up bills or for voting or when the committee by majority vote orders an executive session.” (b) Clause 26 of Rule XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives, as amended by section 102(b) of this Act, is further amended by adding at the end thereof the following new paragraph: “( f ) Meetings for the transaction of business of each standing committee shall be open to the public except when the committee, by majority vote, determines otherwise. This paragraph does not apply to open committee hearings which are provided for by paragraphs (f) (2) and (g) (3) of clause 27 of this Rule.”

Subsequent rule changes in the Senate led to the following:

All committees must make public a video, transcript, or audio recording of each open hearing of the committee within 21 days of the hearing. These shall be made available to the public “through the Internet” (Rule XXVI,paragraph 5(2)(A)).

Below is section 116, the wording that opened the committees to electronic media, television, CNN, radio, etc.

SEC. 116. (a) Section 133A(b) of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, as enacted by section 112(a) of this Act, is amended by adding at the end thereof the following: "Whenever any such hearing is open to the public, that hearing may be broadcast by radio or television, or both, under such rules as the committee may adopt."

For more references and articles on the LRA1970 see this reference section. Also check here (1970s NY Times coverage of the Act), here (scholarly article on Act), and here (Politico article from 2009).

The Senate before 1970

While the LRA expressly addressed both the House and the Senate (see above), there were important differences between the two chambers (with respect to transparency) before 1970. This article from the Senate archives covers a series of changes starting in 1929 to open the Senate. It talks about how the rules for executive sessions were changed to allow for more open committees, which really got going in the 1940s. Interestingly this aligns fairly well with what we know about Senate partisanship (graph below).

House Partisanship

“On motion, The Senate resumed the consideration of the message of the President of the United States, of the 10th instant, containing the nomination of John Rutledge, to be Chief Justice of the United States; and on motion to advise and consent to the appointment, agreeable to the nomination, * It passed in the negative, * Yeas ... 10, * Nays ... 14.” 57 Why is the record so sparse? The explanation is simple- the Senate met in closed executive session when acting upon nominations until 1929. The only way for a nomination to be considered in open session before 1929 was if during a closed session, two-thirds of the senators agreed that the debate be opened. After 1844, any senator who leaked the proceedings of the secret debate on a nomination risked expulsion.

The Senate only finally changed its procedure in 1929, because it had been embarrassed by leaks of the proceedings on two controversial nominations, which had been published by a receptive press. The ensuing controversy eventually lead the Senate Rules Committee to propose an amendment, whereby open sessions would be permitted when ordered by a majority of the members. The proposed rules change also provided that the vote on nominations in closed session should be published in the record. Not satisfied, Senator Joseph Robinson of Arkansas offered a substitute amendment providing that sessions be open unless ordered closed by a majority vote
– Rosenwald 2006 – Advice and Consent